Would-be Predators owners meet with NHL commissioner

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Nashville Predators owner Craig Leipold and the
NHL are giving Nashville every chance to keep the hockey team in
Music City. Now it's up to the fans to respond.

Leipold and representatives of the local group bidding to buy
the team met Wednesday with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in New
York. The meeting was successful enough that they sent an e-mail
with a statement to Herb Fritch, chief executive officer of
HealthSpring Inc. in Nashville.

"The results of today's meeting is that Nashville has the
opportunity to move very quickly to retain the Predators and to do
so under local ownership," Fritch said in reading the statement.

"While we have not yet signed a purchase agreement, our
discussions were encouraging for Nashville if we can move quickly
and decisively to ensure the team's long-term financial

Fritch declined to detail what the group is offering for the

"Craig is trying to afford the local group every opportunity to
put an offer in place," said Gerry Helper, the Predators' vice
president of communications. "Beyond that, it's not appropriate to
comment further," Helper said.

Fritch said he didn't know if the meeting produced a letter of

The group also includes 36 Venture Capital CEO David Freeman,
who attended the meeting. They submitted their bid in early July,
countering offers from Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie and
California businessman William "Boots" Del Biaggio for the team.

Leipold said he's trying to sell the team after losing
approximately $70 million since being awarded the expansion
franchise in 1997.

The Nashville group has yet to detail its offer. Balsillie's bid
of $220 million has stalled since a letter of intent signed in May,
and Del Biaggio offered $190 million. Del Biaggio has an agreement
with the Sprint Center to own any NHL team that relocates to Kansas

"Obviously a local bid is a positive for both the league and
the city of Nashville," Balsillie's lawyer Richard Rodier told The
Canadian Press on Wednesday. "The commissioner is on record as
being in favor of franchise stability in their current locations.
And it's perfectly understandable. However, if the local bid is not
successful, we remain optimistic that our bid is better in every
way than any of the other bids out there."

The NHL didn't immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment

But the would-be Nashville buyers, Leipold and the NHL will be
watching and monitoring how Thursday's daylong "Our Team" rally
in Nashville fares. A separate local group is working to sell at
least 3,000 season tickets, starting with the rally.

"Keeping the Predators in Nashville will continue to be a
broad-based community effort, and we hope that [Thursday's] rally
will demonstrate the support for the club's ongoing needs from both
the fans and the business community," Fritch said.

"Mr. Leipold and the NHL office have been very supportive in
their efforts. We thank them for their willingness to allow the
city of Nashville to demonstrate its desire to retain the

The "Our Team" group is working to ensure the Predators' lease
remains in effect after the 2007-08 season no matter who winds up
owning the team. The Predators averaged 13,815 in paid attendance
this season after finishing third in the NHL with 110 points.

Leipold exercised a clause in June that would allow the team to
end the arena lease if the Predators do not average a minimum of
14,000 in paid attendance. Freeman recently said the Predators
would need to average 16,000 to break even.

Thursday's rally starts at 6 a.m. and will feature a daylong
radio show with the arena open to fans coming to survey potential
seats. The event includes box lunches provided by six hotels,
Predators Ryan Suter and Vernon Fiddler showing off the team's new
uniform and an appearance by the state's first lady, Andrea Conte.

Ron Samuels, president of Avenue Bank and chairman of the "Our
Team" effort, said news of Wednesday's meeting should help give
fans something to rally around and result in a big turnout. They've
enjoyed watching the ownership group make their pitch but can't
control who buys the team.

"We'd love to have local ownership. But we think people no
matter who the owners are, once they come to Nashville, they'll
love being here and find out Nashville is hugely supportive," he

Simple fan support hasn't been the Predators' biggest problem.
The team needs to boost tickets bought by businesses. Leipold said
that has been 35 percent of the team's ticket base compared to 65
percent fans, which is nearly the opposite of other NHL teams.